Hard Life Lessons from the Land of Q Clearances

In an ongoing effort to share helpful things in life about topics other than delicious coffee & beer, I want to take a moment to discuss something that effects all of us, every day.

Mt. Lassen, Bumpass Hell - I try to display more serenity than the heart of volcano that exploded, but it's hard sometimes

Mt. Lassen, Bumpass Hell – I try to display more serenity than the heart of a volcano that exploded, but it’s hard sometimes.

First, let us review the two fundamental pieces of wisdom that can so easily be forgotten in a moment of blinding internet rage:

  1. NEVER read the comment threads.
  2. NEVER feed the trolls.
You know these moments of blinding internet rage. It is unbecoming of you to lie and say they’ve never happened. They happen when someone, somewhere, on the internet is wrong and you need to correct them. Generally, you forget Rule #1 first, then Rule #2 goes out the window as you read, and then you need to call your doctor to up the dosage of your blood pressure medication (maybe get you some of that nice thorazine too to take the edge off). And if that troll was directed at you, well, it takes a truly serene Buddhesque state to resist their bait.
Let me discuss in a bit more detail why you need to heed Rule #2, in particular, as it relates to folks that work in a land of nuclear secrets.


When you have been entrusted with secrets, it is your obligation to not divulge them. If you are working at a rather secretive, tight lipped company, you are bound by some rather brutal Non-Disclosure Agreements and the breach of contract lawsuit can get nasty. In the Gub’mint, be it military or cleared personnel in other departments, the punishments can go all the way up through treason. In particular, The Man takes a very, very, very dim view of people who can’t keep their lips sealed when entrusted with the keys to the nuclear arsenal.


Now, you may feel that too many things have been classified or that things that have absolutely no reason to be classified, like the amount of toilet paper a given facility purchased, have been. Or that transparency is the only way to keep people honest as corruption breeds in the dark. I’ve lost more than a few friends on the topic of Wikileaks because, for the rest of my natural life or until 10CFR1016 changes, I am obligated to not read ANY of it until it appears in the media whereupon I still can’t comment on it as I am an “Informed Individual”. I am inclined to agree with transparency, declassification, and lack of classification in the first place, in general, but there are some things that I would prefer not be shared willy nilly such as nuclear secrets. And, unfortunately, I am all too aware of the intelligence value of a toilet paper order.


Is you brain hurting yet? Good, you are starting to understand what an NDA or clearance really means if you actually intend to honor your word.


A clearance is a way to verify that people are trustworthy and will not divulge secrets. This is not to say that secrets can’t be gleaned from cleared personnel. We have spent an inordinate amount of money over the last decade to “harden” our security infrastructure but we still have one weak link: people. In America, much of this money has been spent to try to engineer people out of security because people are seen as a source of error. I have seen this time and time again, where the after incident root cause analysis almost always comes to the conclusion that the problem was “a training issue”. Not that Jimbo here is too much of a goddamn idiot to not electrocute himself drooling on his keyboard, but that we just didn’t give him enough training. But that is a separate rant about how America has destroyed our bureaucracy through a lack of trust.


Back to people being a weak link in security. Going through the DOE, FBI, and CIA archives of turned agents and convicted violators, the most amazing part is how easy and how cheaply it has been been to get information from people at the most secured of facilities. Sure, you could try to blackmail them with sexual indiscretions, foster drug addictions, take advantage of the same in their family members, or just outright bribe them, but really that’s a lot of work and expense. The easiest way is to just ask, earnestly and with great interest, for someone to explain their work. People want others to be interested in what they do and it is crushing to be unable to share. To find someone genuinely interested with an inkling of the classified information you already know…conversation is almost too much to resist. This is doubly hard for those of us who also teach because we WANT to share.


Of course, that’s the nice way of doing it. The nastier way is an ego attack (or, if you are the kind of nerd that had the AD&D psionics handbook, an ego whip). It is very easy, with a modicum of knowledge about a person’s work, to level a broadside attack on the work and/or the person. Now, to defend yourself fully you may have to disclose information that you shouldn’t, but, but you know better than this…this fucking troll and YOU HAVE TO AND YOU CAN GODDAMN WIN, RIGHT?!?!


No, you can’t. This is what is so infuriating to cleared personnel, the inability to respond. To get a doctorate, to be willing to put yourself in harm’s way, or to be willing to work with the things no sane person wants to touch? This all takes hubris. To have this hubris is to also be so very vulnerable to ego attacks. Several times I had to go smack someone upside the head for going on a forum and putting the puzzle pieces together. Yes, the individual puzzle pieces weren’t classified, but the full picture is and numbskull had no reason to do so other than, really, showing off.


So, the next time you are tempted to respond to a troll, take a moment to realize that it is bait. No matter how you respond, any response gives up a little bit of your life to the troll. Once you have made that investment, it is hard not to compound it because you need the initial investment to be worthwhile. It takes almost no effort on their part to play out the line to get you to divulge more information.


Take a moment to be sure of yourself. Before you so much as type a word in reply to something that has pissed you off, walk away from the computer and other media that might let you respond. Go to the beach, go to a bar, huff a cat, walk in the woods, give your baby a noogie, whatever. Realize you have better things to do than argue with trolls and that you cannot win this fight, ever.


This message brought to you by Herr Direktor Funranium’s +3 whiskey of troll resistance.

The Wire

At this point, the only things that have any hope of getting to folks in time for Christmas are the Steins of Science that I currently have on hand and the BBotE production runs due to complete by Tuesday. There’s a few batches of Ethiopia and Kona slated to finish on Wednesday, but unless you live near a major metropolitan area of the continental US, the odds of something I ship priority mail on Thursday getting to you on Xmas Eve are slim.

Of course, there’s always express mail if you want to live dangerously and expensively. Sorry international folks, your last minute was last Saturday.

So, as I’ve been asked, what’s still on hand? The current Stein selection is here. There’s a handful of BBotE Sampler Sets, both I & II. There’s a few bottles of Death Wish, Rwanda, and Colombia. There is roughly 6L of Kona, 4L of Ethiopia, 1.5L of Sumatra, 1L of Malabar, and 1L of Kenya on hand that could be divvied in any number of bottle sizes, but if someone pounces on that last bit before you do, you probably get to wait until 2012.

Why would you have to wait? Because shipping in the week between Christmas and New Year’s in the US is a damn near lost cause. I may try to make a bit and get some BBotE to help people party through the night on New Year’s Eve, but the postal service may be a bit challenging.

It’s been fun, but this roller coaster is almost at an end for 2011. Please keep your hands and feet inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop.

Blue Babe, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum - I'm feeling about this exhausted after a month straight of maximum production

Blue Babe, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum - I'm feeling about this exhausted after a month straight of maximum production

See you in 2012.

You Know A Building Is Awesome When…

You walk up to the door and this NFPA diamond is posted prominently on the wall above it so that approaching first responders can know to hit the brakes from a very, very long way away.

I love my job. I now return you to your regularly scheduled Twinkie eating, porn surfing, and LOLcats.

Exciting Diamond

Exciting NFPA Diamond - If only it had "NO WATER" and "OX" too like my favorite building at LLNL

Crunchtime and HOORAY!

As the days grow shorter, so to do the opportunities to grab a little dab of the ol’ Scientific Drinking. The Steins of Science on hand right now are the only ones that I’ll be able to ship in time for Christmas. The last international shipment to make sure everything (Steins or BBotE) gets out in time will be on December 17th, the last domestic shipment US is the 20th. Domestic orders for BBotE placed after December 15th may not make it into the production queue. If the production queue suddenly exceeds my ability to crank your swag out in a timely, notifications will start popping up in the store stating that on items.

Of course, the gift certificates always work if that special test subject in your life can take some delayed gratification.


NEW SCOTT BASE BEANIE! - Such Is The Power Of BBotE That I Can Summon Clothing From 14000mi Away

In other news, I would like to congratulate Ms. Katherine Bushman, currently residing at McMurdo Station, for making the arduous trek over the hill to the other side of Ross Island and getting me a NEW SCOTT BASE BEANIE!!! Sadly, fashion marches on and my old buddy is no longer in vogue but I’ve gotten over that and come to love the new style. More importantly, My Lovely Assistant got to hear me make the giddy giggle that everyone should make when they receive an package with a return address that says “Antarctica” Katherine’s caffeinated prize will be on it’s way shortly and should grace Christchurch by Xmas Eve. Christchurchers, especially the Forces of KAOS, please refrain from mugging her for it. Enjoy and thank you!

BBotE Update: The Decembering

As promised yesterday, me make coffee words much the good YES!

Let us begin with the bad news. As always, the limited offerings are called such because the coffees they use are not infinite. In the course of my insatiable need to experiment, I find delicious and wonderful single origin coffees that I think are worthy of sharing (and many more than that aren’t). But these are always small lots, either in what the roaster could purchase or the total production of the farm in the first place, so they eventually run out. And this has happened.

The victims of limited production this time is the Guatemala Retiro de Quisaya and, possibly, the Guatemala Mundo Nuvo. After the currently listed inventory finishes, both of the Guatemalas will be rotating out, hopefully returning by next August. There may be a bit more Mundo Nuvo to be had but the holiday roasting schedule is looking prohibitive for them up at Caffe Vita, so definitely no more before Xmas. I’m pleased that my “enough to make it to mid-December” prediction was spot on.

Now on to the good news, the hunt has yielded something I feel worthy of sharing. Continuing my way south, I have continued my latitudinal tour of the East African Rift Valley in Rwanda and I’m pretty happy with what I found there. My hypothesis of the north to south greasy/savory to chocolate spectrum continues to be look good. Straight and cold, the medium roast Rwanda Abakundakawa has a bit of a dry palate, not brut champagne but more like a neat martini, and nearly baking chocolate character and a light hint of fruit. There was some strong disagreement about whether it was blueberry, currant, or (as I shook my head at Test Subject Broken Tongue) jujubes. For the vodka addition, a molasses character emerged that made me wonder if I’d somehow poured in Meyers rum instead of straight vodka. With the three part hot water dilution, it just felt like have a nice mug of cocoa, which was damn nice in the ice box of my office.

So, hooray for another delicious African BBotE and I’ve made the pre-order for the first run available.  I am, once again, hunting for my personal favorite, a Central American light roast. I have some prospects, so more news on that later as it develops.

Lastly, the production queue is filling up with some crazy people ordering entire cases or Jugs of Madness. Since there is some production time involved, domestic orders of BBotE placed after the 15th start looking a bit iffy for getting to people in time for Christmas. For international orders, please get them in no later than the 13th. And yes, if/when the production queue fills completely to the point that I don’t think your order will get out in time, I will make an announcement.

Makeshift South Pole Sumo

Makeshift South Pole Sumo – Yeah, The Decembering kinda feels like this

Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Let us confront The Decembering and not mourn the fallen but celebrate them as they are crushed beneath the wheels of so many shopping carts.

The Tale of the Adventure Socks

Adventure is the gift that keeps on giving. And in this case is still giving, because I get to share this story with you. Yes, I have more coffee related things to share later, but I want to take this moment to discuss the importance of Adventure as a gift.

I have a friend named Joe. This is his actual name, not an internet pseudonym to protect his innocence as he has none. In the last eight years of my life, Joe has been a central figure in many hilarious misadventures mainly of the “Everybody point and laugh, children” nature. I have often said that a healthy lack of shame will take you far in this world; Joe is poised to go to orbit I suspect.

You know the old saying, “You just like to push people’s buttons”? Joe’s brain presents me with such a large console of buttons, knobs, levers, and even toggles that it’s hard to not trip something. It’s like stepping up to a pipe organ to play. Joe knows this about me and thus treats me with a due sense of skepticism and paranoia.

One day, I presented Joe with a pair of stripey socks similar to these.

Joe: “What’s this?”

Me: “These are your Adventure Socks.”

Joe (skeptical face engaged, begins looking for needles): “What the fuck are Adventure Socks?”

Me: “These are the socks you wear when you are going on an adventure. Someday, someone will ask, “Do you have your Adventure Socks?” If you do, then the adventure begins.”

Joe (looking worried): “Uh huh…”

Me: “So, be sure to carry those on you at all times, okay? You never know when you’ll need them.”

This pushed all the correct paranoia inducing buttons. All this was in conspiracy to do something nice for the boy as he’d been having a bit of a rough time. One day, about a month later, I told our general group of friends to clear their schedules for the day and meet me at Bocci Cellar in Santa Cruz for a nice meal and some bocce ball. I similarly told his girlfriend to keep Joe occupied for the day and that I’d be calling at some point to let her know where we were getting together for dinner, but not to tell Joe.

So, I called her cell from a blocked number, told her not to say my name after she picked up and act concerned as we talked. After a little bit I told her to say, “Uh huh…Joe it’s for you.” and hand the phone over to him.

Joe: “Hello”

Me (ominous voiced): “Do you have your Adventure Socks?”

Joe (a bit shouty): “Yes! I have been carrying these goddamn things around in my bag for weeks you fucker!”

Me: “Good. Hand the phone back to Stef now.”

I told Stef where the restaurant was and they headed our way. Joe entered looking very twitchy. We had a lovely meal, played several rounds of bocci, and had many free cocktails courtesy of the owner/cook that appreciated customers that liked strong cocktails/were willing to experiment. At the end of the evening, Joe cornered me and asked…

Joe: “So, why did I need Adventure Socks?”

Me: “You always need Adventure Socks.”

Joe: “No, specifically, this evening why did I need them?”

Me: “To put you into such a paranoid state that you’d ignore other problems that’ve been bothering you and so that this evening would feel really great. Also, messing with you is fun.”

Joe: “I hate you.”

It’s been almost 7 years now. He still keeps them close at hand and definitely takes his Adventure Socks with him when he travels. Because you never know when you’re going to get the call…

Pixel Squid Feet

Pixel Squid Feet – Socks courtesy of R. Stevens, Feet courtesy My Lovely Assistant

EDITORIAL: My Lovely Assistant’s feet personally endorse the wares of Sock Dreams and Mr. R. Stevens of DIESEL SWEETIES fame. She is a firm believer in having interesting socks on AT ALL TIMES, just in case you have to remove your shoes and entertain the TSA.